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When Can Plaintiffs Recover for Emotional Damages

Emotional Damages

Medical bills for physical injuries, lost wages, and economic damages are all examples of damages recoverable that are tangible and easy to quantify. But what happens when a plaintiff suffers from emotional distress as the result of an accident or traumatic exposure? Until recently, it was very difficult for people to seek emotional damages, as the law restricted the collection of damages for injuries outside of the scope of physical or economic harm.

However, as society becomes more aware of the complexities of emotional harm and mental anguish, the law is catching up as well, and some courts have begun allowing damages even if only emotional harm occurs. If you believe you are a victim of emotional distress following an accident, read on to learn who qualifies for emotional distress damages and how to obtain compensation.

What is Emotional Distress?

Emotional distress occurs when the defendant causes severe emotional suffering to the plaintiff, either through negligence or intent to cause harm. Physical injury can cause or contribute to emotional distress, but emotional distress damages do not require a physical injury to have occurred. Emotional distress damages only apply to individuals without a predisposition to fear, anxiety, or overt emotional distress, otherwise known as “eggshell psyche.” Formally defined, emotional distress can occur in three forms:

  1. In a negligence action where a physical injury occurred as well.
  2. In an intentional tort where there may or may not be accompanying physical injuries.
  3. Negligent infliction of emotional distress.

Emotional Distress Damages Can Be Sought in These Circumstances

  1. Toxic material exposure
  2. Disease exposure
  3. Medical negligence
  4. Sexual abuse
  5. Mishandling of the body of a deceased loved one
  6. Witnessing a loved one’s death or injury

The law varies state by state, and as the law evolves to recognize more nuanced forms of emotional distress, standards may change.

How to Prove Emotional Distress

The onus of proof is more difficult for those seeking emotional distress damages than those seeking compensation for physical or economic harm. However, advances in modern science and greater understanding of mental illnesses have allowed plaintiffs to prove their emotional distress by showing evidence that emotional distress has caused a bodily injury or sickness. For example, a plaintiff may develop Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a physical illness, as a result of chronic anxiety and depression caused by a traumatizing ordeal.

Victims should be sure to collect medical reports, personal testimony regarding physical symptoms, and other quantifiable evidence of emotional distress. Some illnesses that can be a result of emotional distress include:

  1. Psychoses
  2. Chronic depression
  3. Phobia
  4. Shock
  5. Neuroses

Have You Experienced Severe Emotional Harm?

A lot has changed since the days when courts considered emotional distress impossible to quantify and compensate, but it’s still not easy for victims of emotionally traumatizing accidents to receive the damages they deserve. If you believe that you have experienced severe emotional harm after an accident or exposure, it’s essential to act right away. Since it is much more difficult to prove damages for emotional distress, contacting a lawyer as soon as possible is important in being able to effectively collect all the evidence necessary to seek personal injury compensation.